Looks like I’ve got a small group of loyal followers! Shout out to you guys for liking my chapters and keeping me motivated!
While editing this chapter I gave a lot of thought to taking out the minor plot point about Ross’ track team being divided up into smaller groups. I feel that this may be an unnecessary point, in that it fails to adequately reinforce Ross’ place as an emerging leader for his male peers. I would like to ask you all to help me with this issue. Do you feel like I should focus less on the track team, or do you see another side to Ross when he begins to coach his own teammates? Any feedback on this would be great!
In this chapter, Ross gets even more surprising news during track practice, has his first encounter with the students of Goliad, and meets an aloof Malerie Knighten for the first time.
“Alright guys, move in here for a second,” Coach Lara calls as Chris and I finish our last lap. The other guys move aside to the turf, the two of us following suit as we form a circle around our coach. Squatting down, we look and listen.
“Okay. First off: Districts is in almost three months. Now that may seem like a ways off, but that time is coming quicker than you all think. That’s why Coach Jensen and I have decided to change the morning practices to extended after school practices.”
I groan, as do most of the other guys.
“Why coach?” Jordan Sykes asks in front of me, sounding pouty. “I work harder the earlier it is.”
‘Like hell you do,’ I think, picturing him sleeping in over Christmas break.
“Well, it’s not going to be a practice in the traditional sense. Starting next Monday, I’ll be breaking you guys up into teams. Each of you guys is best at something, and that’ll be the focus of each group. We’ll be hitting those skills over and over. Basically, I’m leaving your training in your hands.”
We all listen, our comprehension fine but our disbelief tripping us up.
“Now, Coach Jensen and I believe you guys are all near your peak. We’ve given you all the ropes and shown you how to train yourself. Now you guys can only become more – or less – dedicated to our sport. So here’s our new plan: practice will run from 3 to 4:30 every weekday except for Friday. It won’t be a long practice, it won’t be a hard practice, but the same techniques we’re gonna hit are still just as critical to your success. Is that clear?”
We all nod.
“Are there any questions?”
“Yeah,” Jacob raises his hand. “How will we know how much is enough?”
Coach Lara smiles, puffing out his broad chest. “Well, you’ll just have to come starting Monday and find out. Now hit the showers!”
As we walk off, Chris comes up to me. “Hey dude. You still up for tonight?”
The old feeling of being a single guy ebbs back. “Hell yes.”
Chris’s house is not party central. There are in no way tons of hot girls from all four high schools there living it up with tons of eager guys with a plastic cup of beer in hand looking to score. Chris hosts small parties with only a few of his buddies, mostly guys from track like me. On Fridays the word around school would be about someone like Jordan throwing a huge party in his two story house, which by midnight would be filled with jocks, stellar chicks, and general urge junkies who give in to anything and everything there is to indulge in: beer, wine, streaking, weed, sex.
But I’m not a part of that. I find something more laid back in parties like the ones Chris has, where pizza, pool hopping, Counter-Strike, and, in the past, the occasional porn session are never overdone or too wild, lasting up to the early morning hours as other parties do. Hell, it’s not in any of us to do anything worse, really. I don’t know if it’s just because we’re self-aware of our social labels as the skinny track guys, or because our Sunday morning church services instilled something more than biblical recitals and politeness in us. Maybe it’s just in our nature to shy away from risks, the world of sex and living like we have something to die for.
Staring out at the orange construction markers glimmering under the amber street lights, I tell myself in a haze of nighttime peace that I’ll find out some day.
Dad drops me off at the front gate of Chris’s house around 8:00, when the dark of night has just started to settle in, and the sounds of the city seem to carry farther.
“I’ll pick you up at 12:00,” he says, which is really a command to me. “No later, alright?”
“Will do,” I say, then shut the door and walk through the gate.
Mr. Ramirez answers the door a few seconds after I ring the doorbell.
“Ross,” he smiles, sticking out his hand. I shake it. “How are you?”
“Alright, sir,” I say, when really my life’s crap. But at least here I can get my mind off of the things that have happened over the past two days.
In the main hallway, Mrs. Ramirez hugs me hard and bombards me with questions about school and life.
“Good, everything’s good.” Sincere-sounding bullcrap, but she buys it.
“Glad to hear it! Well, you guys have a good time.”
I pass into the living room, where Jose and Matt are watching some stupid MTV show. We exchange fist taps and they glue their eyes back on the T.V. in a heartbeat. Then Chris comes out of his room and greets me.
“Uh, just water’ll be good man.”
I shake my head. “You know me.”
“Come on,” Chris goads me, grinning as we walk around the kitchen island, “just once, dude. It won’t kill you.”
“Coke,” I say matter-of-factly, “is for the weak.” Back when he was a health nut, dad had told me how Coke messes up your breathing and slows you down. I’ve been soda-free since my sophomore year, and definitely feel the difference.
Chris reaches into the refrigerator, pulls out an RC and pops it open.
“Are you calling me weak?” he retorts, giving me a challenging look as he takes a gulp.
Despite the fact that I love RC and would probably down one if he offered, I lean close to Chris and whisper, “Well, I’d best describe you as a ‘pussy’.”
Chris sets the can down, not breaking his stare. I grin from ear to ear. In a flash he grabs me by the shoulders, but I’m ready. I fall back just as he pushes me, and I manage to get out from under him as he stumbles forward.
We wrestle for a couple of seconds more, and then break apart, panting.
“Still think…I’m weak?”
“Naw,” I shake my head, heaving a little and giving Chris a thumbs-up. “Equal.”
When he comes back from the pantry and hands me my trademark plastic cup, we all head off to Chris’s room. This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve been to his house, but I have the usual routine down already.
As Chris boots up his computer, Jose says, “So how about all of those Goliad people we’re gonna get Monday?”
“Crazy,” Chris mutters, his eyes already glued to the monitor.
Matt shrugs from his spot on the foot of Chris’s bed. “The way I see it, this could be a beautiful thing. None of the girls at our school are hot, so more is good. Maybe a Goliad girl will be my type.”
We all laugh.
“Speaking of girls,” Jose says, scratching the back of his neck and looking at me, “how are things with you and Ana?”
At first I panic, Ana’s name triggering an influx of bad memories from the past week. But in a time like this, getting late into the night with friends, and ready to lose myself in some FPS, I barely feel the need to be ashamed.
“We broke up,” I say, trying not to draw it out. Apparently I pass, because all three of them look at me in surprise.
“Dang. You called it off?” Jose asks.
“Yeah,” I say, again without much thought. One thing about me: I’m a consistent liar, especially when it comes to ridiculously normal questions that shouldn’t even require lying.
Chris and Jose look at each other with mouths half-open, while Matt shakes his head like a made a mistake. Which I guess I did in the first place.
“Well…good,” Jose pats me on the back, “I thought she wasn’t the girl for you, man.”
“Lets the good ones go,” Matt laments to himself aloud.
I smile. At least they think that I was the one who pulled the plug. But somehow that makes me feel zero percent better.
“Don’t even worry about it,” Chris said, holding up his Monster. “Girls are complicated. Parties are not.”
“What the hell?”
“Look,” Mark says, pointing up ahead. I look, not seeing what he’s talking about at first. Then I notice them. A huge group of kids and their parents are gathered in front of the administration building, some of them looking in the still-dark entrance windows. Most of them just looked ticked off to be there on a Monday morning.
“Oh,” he says, tilting his head, “it’s the people from Goliad.”
As we get closer, some of the voices become clearer.
“Where the hell are the staff?” one man asks tersely, snapping his fingers.
“I’ve got to get to work,” another woman says, and (I’m guessing) her son rolls his eyes.
“Didn’t they tell us 7:00 on the dot?”
“I knew this was a bad idea,” someone else in the crowd mutters. Mark and I approach until the impatient man in the plaid shirt turns to us.
“Hey, you guys go here?”
“Yessir,” Mark says, while I think, ‘Dur, the nearest high school is three miles away.’
“Where’s the welcome party? Christ, it’s already 7:10. Shouldn’t the principal at least be here to see us?”
Mark and I glance at each other, probably thinking the same thing. Obviously none of these people have ever been to Bishop Lynn High School. Hell, the office secretary barely arrives at 7:00 most mornings.
I look the group over. There’s an almost even mixture of white, black, and Hispanic faces. A few kids have a ghetto style, with the baggy pants, collared shirts, and grimaces, while others are dressed casually in t-shirts and tennis shoes. Some look as impatient and unhappy to be here as their parents, while others just look on in unease. A few are friends and talk without worry. In general they seem like normal, everyday kids. Of course though; why wouldn’t they be?
“We were supposed to be here early. Some woman named Mrs. Demas said the office staff would be here at seven to welcome us and show us around the school. But hell, we don’t need a welcome mat for our kids.”
A few of the other adults murmur in agreement.
“Well,” I say, “Mrs. Demas usually gets here around 7:15, so if you just wait a few minutes more she should be here. She should be able to help you guys…”
I fumble for the words. All the kids from Goliad seem to be watching me, as if I’m a glass cup hanging on the edge of a table.
“Yeah, I’m sure she can,” the man mutters, waving me away. “We’re gonna wait. Already wasted enough time as it is.”
I step back a little. There’s nothing else I can say.
“Come on, let’s go,” Mark offers. I nod, and we head back the way we came.
The rush at the first bell is insane.
We get swept into the math building, the double doors flooding with streams of both old Bishop Lynn locals and the new Goliad visitors. Some people are pushing and raising their voices, but amazingly no fights break out. After a breathless moment amongst squished bodies, Chris and I stumble into Harrison’s class. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my friend get wide-eyed until today.
Everyone is already seated, so I try to sneak into my chair and keep the silence intact. Math is never this quiet.
A little while goes by, and the loud talking and noises in the hall slowly die out as the tardy bell rings. Doors close. The silence grows.
“So, how ‘bout them Cowboys?” Jordan Sykes offers from his seat in the center of the room. I resist the temptation to respond, knowing he’s always got a snide comeback, and take out my math binder.
“Terrible game,” Mr. Harrison remarks dryly from behind his desk. “But, since you’ve spoken up, Sykes. You’re taking an environmental science course, aren’t you?”
Jordan nods, dawning one of his small smiles. “Yes sir.”
“Then maybe you can tell me: how does a hurricane form in mid-January? I thought that was impossible in nature. Well, at least here in the valley anyway.”
A flash of uncertainty crosses Jordan’s face, but it’s LeRoy who comes to his rescue. Sitting by the window, he sits up and says, “They can happen year-round, but hardly ever do outside hurricane season.”
“Well, we have a meteorologist in the class,” Mr. Harrison notes, looking around the room in mild amusement. A few kids snicker. “So, either Jordan or LeRoy-”
The two guys glance at each other, Jordan offering out a fist and grinning. LeRoy smiles ever so slightly and pounds it.
“-Is this Hurricane Eduardo one for the record books?”
But before either of them can say something smart, the girl walks in.
I hear her shut the door and turn to look. She’s blonde, or actually dirty blonde, her hair falling just above her shoulders, a black pull-string bag at her side and a folded paper in the same hand. Just for a second I look around and notice that all but a couple of people are watching her as she strides up to Mr. Harrison’s desk of authority. Without batting an eye, she slaps – yes, slaps – the slip of paper onto the desk and folds her arms without a word, waiting. Mr. Harrison looks up from his crossword, first at the paper, then at her.
“From Goliad?” he asks listlessly, placing a hand on the paper.
“Yes sir,” she replies. “That I am.” Her voice is flat, clear cut and….daring.
“Well, welcome, Malerie Knighten” Mr. Harrison says with some jollity, signing off her form and gesturing for her to sit anywhere. “We were just discussing the strange weather.”
“Glad to be here,” she replies, turning and heading to the back. “And yeah, strange weather.”
Everyone is watching her now as she gets the empty desk next to the last row and sits down, looking calm only as she shrugs off her bag. Malerie, huh.
It’s like elementary school: the new kid becomes the highlight of the day, the center of attention whom everyone talks about. Then by tomorrow, I’m sure no one will care about her. She’ll have faded into the background and joined everyone in the same grey routines and blurry rushes between classes.
But she’s got this sturdiness in her eyes that I can’t get over.
“God damn Hurricane Eduardo,” Malerie says, barely audible but clear enough for most of the room to hear. “I don’t want to be here.”
People just look at her, some mouths agape, others with their eyebrows raised.
“Nice to know,” Mr. Harrison says, sorting through some papers with a smile, “I’m sure you’re not the only one.”
On the way to speech, Malerie walks past me into the 400 building.
Well, she struts like she doesn’t have an ass that’s worth showing off. But there is something about the way she walks.
I speed up a little to keep up with her, tracking her body language. She keeps her head pretty straight as her shoulders and torso rotate back and forth, almost like a model strutting, but I can tell she’s not trying to be sexy. Malerie keeps her hands half-clenched, the same pull-string bag in her left one, her lightly tanned arms hang loosely. She looks slightly to her left and right a couple of times, and I can see from the corners of her eyes that she’s just glancing at nothing in particular. But the best part is the path she’s taking: straight down the hall, through the dense flow of all the other kids. And when it looks like she’s about to run into somebody, she just cocks the respective shoulder back, so that they just barely graze, avoiding a collision. Smooth, and easy, but aloof.
Turning off to my class, I linger at the door and take in everything one more time: black t-shirt with red water ripples on the back, light blue jeans, and white sneakers. But I can’t make anything of her, the personality itself, the girl behind the brusque hazel eyes and strong walk.
Sitting at my desk next to Gerry and looking up at today’s journal topic, that’s all I can wonder about for the longest time.